Victims in Church Cases Also Robbed of Their Faith

By Melissa Evans
Tri-Valley Herald [Fremont CA]
Downloaded March 22, 2004

FREMONT -- If thy hand betrays thee, cut it off.

A man who says he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a child quoted that biblical passage -- then severed part of his left hand with a serrated knife, family members say.

He is one of three men suing the Diocese of Oakland, among others, for the alleged actions of the late Rev. James Clark, a priest who served at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Niles from 1964 to 1984.

Others who say they were abused by priests have been severed in other ways. The trauma, they say, has cut away their ability to believe in God.

"What is religion? What is God?" said Terrie Light, who said she was raped by a priest at St. Bede Parish in Hayward and later received a financial settlement from the diocese. "All of that is tainted. ... It has impacted everything."

Light said her world was once framed by the church. The center of that world was the priest -- a pastor, father figure and counselor who held the keys to heaven.

But when she was 7, Light says, her priest grabbed her by the neck, raped her and told her she would burn in hell if she told anyone about it.

"I couldn't make sense of it," she said.

Victims of priest abuse suffer a two-pronged blow, psychologists say. They are traumatized by the event itself -- as well as the role the perpetrator plays in their life, said Paul Abramson, a psychology professor at University of California, Los Angeles.

The abuse leads to confusion, guilt and profound depression, said Abramson, who has interviewed dozens of priest abuse victims, including the three men who have accused Clark.

"Religious leaders have an esteemed place in the community," he said. "(The abuse) undermines (the victims') sense of stability. Society acknowledges these men as leaders and authorities."

Dan McNevin, one of the men suing Clark, said he doesn't know yet whether he'll be able to trust religion again.

He has experimented with other faiths, but nothing has felt right, he said.

"I do need spiritual underpinnings," said McNevin, who was 12 at the time he says the molestation occurred. "But this hole was created by the abuse."

Abusers are very skilled at picking their victims, Abramson said. They tend to choose the most devout children, the ones who are least likely to question the authority of the priest.

That was the case of the man who severed his hand, family members say. Because he had sinned with his hand, he be-

lieved cutting it off was the only way to get into heaven.

Recovering takes time, Abramson said. Talking with other victims helps, he said, as do psychotherapy and other intervention.

McNevin says a big part of his healing has involved answering questions. He hopes that some day he will be able to find peace with religion, he says. He misses the community of church, and most of all the ability to trust.

"Am I a Christian? I don't know," he said. "My only interest now is getting as much peace with this as I can."


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